Irwin Mitchell: we’ll float and take on the mid-tier

Irwin Mitchell first to declare ABS intentions; aims for £50m war chest for recruitment

John Pickering
John Pickering

Irwin Mitchell plans to use the £50m war chest it expects to amass on converting to an alternative business structure (ABS) to go head-to-head with mid-tier corporate firms.

Managing partner John Pickering said the firm would target growth through mergers and acquisitions once the Legal Services Act (LSA) is implemented in October.

“We’re trying to get a more balanced portfolio that’s deliberately diverse,” he explained. “What we do, we do well.

“We’re not trying to take on the magic circle, but in terms of business we can challenge the mid-tier ­corporate firms and those in small and medium-sized enterprise circles.

“We’re doing work for some of the biggest companies around. This will give us the opportunity to grow our service portfolio for the companies we’re working for.”

Systems the firm has developed through its ­commoditised arm will be adapted and tailored to meet the needs of the ­corporate practice.

Pickering explained: “It’s about deconstruction of the law, like [consultants] Stephen Mayson or Richard Susskind have explained in the past, trying to reduce it to an operational process.”

Irwin Mitchell’s conversion to an ABS has been anticipated by the profession ever since the LSA was first mooted.

The firm’s senior partner Michael Napier was heavily involved in shaping the LSA legislation and spent a good deal of time on the legal ­circuit advocating its speedy progress through Parliament.

What was not known, however, was how Irwin Mitchell intended to grow following the implementation of the act.

The firm sent shockwaves through the profession last September when it made an audacious move for a four-partner real estate team from SJ Berwin.

Traditionally Irwin Mitchell has been perceived as a personal injury ­powerhouse, but when the firm raided SJ Berwin for a hefty proportion of its ­London property team it set its stall out to become a ­serious ­contender in the City.

“It was the blend of skill that we wanted,” reflected Pickering. “It takes us to a new level in that sector.”

Pickering said acquisitions will be looked at on a case-by-case basis, adding that Irwin Mitchell would consider any firms, teams or companies that offer a ­complementary service.

Through M&A activity on a scale never before seen in the profession, Irwin Mitchell could effectively reshape the mid-tier legal sector.

Irwin Mitchell, which was ranked 22nd in The Lawyer UK 200 Annual Report 2010 with a turnover of £157m, said all options were up for discussion, with the firm assessing whether it might be best to do an IPO to raise cash or to take outside investment from a non-legal entity.

Pickering said Irwin Mitchell had no set strategic aim of being the first law firm to launch an ABS. Rather, he stresses that the firm is looking at what options would best suit the long-term objective of growth.

Pickering said: “We’re at the beginning of the first part of the process, not at the end of it. We haven’t committed to an IPO or private funding – both are options.”

The firm announced last week that it had appointed a trio of professional advisers to guide it through the ­conversion (TheLawyer. com, 20 April).

Norton Rose has been drafted in to provide legal advice, with five partners and an of counsel working on the project.

This team includes corporate partners Martin Scott and Julian Stanier, assisted by of counsel Anne Ledingham, tax partner Dominic Stuttaford and employment partners Monique Fry and Paul Griffin.

Espirito Santo Investment Ban has been appointed as the firm’s financial ­adviser and Deloitte as its accountant.